Thieves looking for copper wire are not just breaking in; now they are ripping live copper electrical wiring from operating businesses, in a dangerous and damaging new trend.
In the past three months at least three businesses in Niagara County -- one in Niagara Falls and two in the Lockport Plaza -- have been hit, causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage. It is unclear if the thefts are related.
Monday, the owner of the Tanning Bed, 328 South Transit St. in the Lockport Plaza, arrived to find that the tanning salon had been put out of business for the day by thieves who had cut the power sometime between 10 p.m. Sunday and 7:50 a.m. Monday.
Detective Lt. Scott Seekins said thieves apparently used heavy bolt cutters to cut wires from two live services, one from the Tanning Bed and another from an empty storefront, taking a total of 160 feet of copper wire.
"They opened up the meter boxes, they cut the wires inside the meter boxes and then pulled [the wire] down through the conduit," Seekins said.
"We don't have a dollar amount," he said of the loss. "But with added labor I can't begin to guess the expense."
Seekins said about 325 feet of copper wiring also was stolen Feb. 2 from the Western New York Developmental Disabilities Service Office at the Lockport Plaza.
In that case, thieves took a ladder from a neighboring yard, climbed the rear wall of the plaza building and stole four heavy cables of copper wiring, approximately 85 feet each. The conduit and feeder boxes were found broken, and the power was cut off.
The loss was listed at $10,000, with additional costs for repair and installation.
On Feb. 27 in the 1300 block of Pine Avenue in Niagara Falls, thieves took 40 feet of cable, valued at $1,500, from the exterior of a Family Dollar building. The thieves cut the electrical wiring, knocking out the store's power in the overnight theft.
Seekins called the wiring thefts very dangerous and noted that the thief or thieves likely have some specialized tools and knowledge.
"Our investigation shows that they bypassed some aluminum service cables, which were left nearby. They opted not to take them because they have little or no value. They absolutely know what they are looking for," he said.
"If they are bold enough to go after industrial cable, they have just enough working knowledge to be dangerous," Lockport Police Chief Lawrence M. Eggert said.
The Lockport Palace Theatre also was hit in February by thieves who stripped four air conditioning condensers outside the building on East Avenue, leaving the lids and fans but stripping the units for their copper and causing more than $15,000 in damage.
"We are a small snapshot of a larger problem," Eggert said.
Anyone with information is asked to call Lockport Police at 433-7700 or the detective tip line at 439-6707.